I’m all for exploring new ways to help people with disabilities find work but this is just missing the point (BBC News article – Rosa Monckton: Let learning disabled work below minimum wage). In short, Rosa Monckton (who has a daughter with learning disabilities) argues that employers should be allowed to hire people with learning disabilities (who currently have a paid employment rate of 6%) for less than the minimum wage.
When supporting someone to search for work, though, the barriers encountered are not the cost of employing someone. More often than not, the hiring manager simply does not understand the capability of the applicant, the role they can play in improving the efficiency of existing staff, the improved public perception of their business and the accompanying improvement in business performance.
What is needed is much greater publicity given to the potential benefits and better education for all employers in both the Equality Act 2010 and in disability awareness. By enacting the suggestions from this article, we would be allowing exploitation (allowing employers to pay people less for doing the same job) and devaluation of people with learning disabilities already in paid employment as well as future applicants (and people with learning disabilities who will never apply).
I agree with Monckton’s point that greater employment rates would allow more people with learning disabilities to feel the “human dignity that comes with work” (although I take exception with this phrasing; not everyone in employment feels this “human dignity”, especially if they feel alienated from their work). However, much of this would depend on the employee feeling valued as a member of a team, as a person. This comes from the interaction between the team member, the team and the employer. If it is known – or even suspected – that the person is paid less for doing the same job (or a different, equally-important job), then the person’s membership of the team is threatened and vulnerable to decay. They can be de-valued by the other members of the team or by the employer. What dignity can be found in employment if you are viewed by those around you as less valuable, less important than themselves, if you are at the bottom of the social order and destined to never improve your position? Do not misunderstand me: I do not think that people will necessarily see colleagues with learning disabilities as lesser people or even that they are less deserving of an equal wage to theirs. I do, however, think that even those with good intentions would be in danger of unwittingly patronising colleagues with learning disabilities.
What is really galling is that the evidence exists that employers do not need this extra incentive. I have, in the past, worked with companies as diverse as Glendale (Liverpool parks and gardens maintenance), Tesco and McDonalds who have all carved equally-paid jobs for people with learning disabilities. I understand small businesses not being able to create bespoke roles on limited recruitment budgets but, if McDonalds are willing to do this, then what, honestly, is stopping any other major employer?